Everything I Need to Know About Your Culture is in Your Parking Lot

on September 12, 2018

In my 12-plus years as a consultant, I’ve rolled up to the front door of a lot of companies. Within the walls of these buildings are at least a few folks who want to create big change and invigorate their people – it’s a beautiful thing. Those people will come up against a number of obstacles. Overcome one and the next barrier to change will be waiting, because change is hard and changing a corporation is even harder. For most of those barriers, Root has a plan and a process to bust them down and drive real change. Easy peasy, we got this.

But there’s one barrier – one telltale sign – I fear the most. When I see it, I shake my head sadly knowing that in this company, people will be less willing to open themselves to change, to be vulnerable and take the leap. In this company, it will take every tool in the arsenal to make even the smallest movements. Do you know what it is? Executive Parking.

Executive Parking is a Barrier to Change

Yes, those five sweet spots right by the door. Perhaps your executives get custom signs. Or like one company I visited, perhaps the sidewalk in that one section has radiant heat so that the executives never have to walk on ice. Or like the company I interned with in college, the executives have an air-conditioned garage just for them (that CEO went to jail, by the way).

When I see Executive Parking, it is almost certain three things exist in the company culture that will act as barriers to change:

1. Pleasing the Executive Team is the Top Priority

These are the companies where people are clawing their way to the top. At these types of organizations, you can bet the Senior Leader Committee meeting is hallowed ground few are deemed worthy to tread … bad news doesn’t get to the top without a glossy veneer of “positioning” … and the PowerPoints shown in management meetings have file names like Q3_results_v56.pptx. The executives don’t mix it up; they don’t hear unvarnished truth, and most certainly don’t have the open conversations to make needed change happen in an efficient way.

2. Servant Leadership Isn’t Embraced

When the best parking spots are reserved for the chosen few, you’re making a statement: you put the needs of the SVP of Widgets above those of your employees. And that theme can carry through the business in many subtle but important ways. To drive change, you need a cadre of people that have your back and who believe you truly have theirs because achieving a business goal won’t happen if only your most senior level executives are on board. You need the masses! All of your people need to join you on your journey and that will only happen if they believe they play an important role. They need to see the actions you take every day are directed towards their ability to be successful. If they don’t feel like they’re important to the whole, you can be sure they aren’t following you anywhere but out of the parking lot at 5 p.m. on the dot.

3. Inauthentic Power

When I see Executive Parking I expect to walk into a company where title outranks everything else. Believe it or not, some people embrace inauthentic power and believe a title gives you more authority, knowledge, and power than others. Ha! As Root’s co-founder Jim Haudan and CEO Rich Berens say in their forthcoming book, “inauthentic power is the mindset that: I have more than you do, I know more than you do, I am more than you are.” This way of thinking couldn’t be a bigger barrier to change. If your executives believe they are better than their people and aren’t ready to roll up their sleeves alongside those on the frontline, successful change is nothing but a pipe dream.

It’s Time to Break Down Your Change Barriers

Culture isn’t words on a wall or a party thrown once a year, it’s the day in and day out actions of the people in your organization – especially the ones everybody is watching, who currently park 20 steps from the door. What would happen if tomorrow your C-suite gave their spots to the guy with the best safety record? To the woman who tried something new and failed in spectacular fashion? That message would spread like wildfire and perhaps do more to help your company create change that any other action this year.

What’s the telltale sign of a culture in trouble that you’ve seen? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you.

Comments

Thinking

Training and Skill Building
Managing Change
Developing Leaders and Managers